Estimated $5 million spent on failed UAA classes in fall 2017

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Photo credit: Claudia Lampman

UAA students did not get credit for approximately 30 percent of the classes they registered for in the fall of 2017. That amounts to an estimated $5 million tuition dollars spent on classes students did not receive credit for. Research by Interim Vice Provost for Student Success, Claudia Lampman, shows that students did not receive credit for courses they took because they failed, withdrew from the course or took an incomplete.

“What it means is that students are spending a lot of money on courses that they’re not actually getting credit for. That’s the bottom line, and I don’t want to see that happen anymore,” Lampman said. “I would like to fix that.”

Lampman thinks some of the problems can be attributed to a lack of advising for first-year students. Students take classes they are not prepared for and would benefit from mandatory advising, Lampman said

“One of the biggest things we need to do is make sure that students are taking courses that they’re prepared for and that will be a good fit for their goals and their level of preparation coming into the university,” Lampman said. “It’s not that I don’t think people can’t pass these classes —I think they can— but maybe not [in] their first semester.”

Natural science courses like physics A123 and biology A111 are particularly difficult for students. Only 33 percent of students who were also enrolled in developmental education courses passed physics A123. Comparatively, students that were not concurrently enrolled in developmental education courses passed 49 percent of the time in fall of 2017.

Travis Rector, professor of physics and astronomy, taught physics A123 last fall. Teaching that class comes with a number of challenges including its large 200 plus student size and its location in the Wendy Williamson Auditorium.

“I think one of the biggest challenges we face at UAA is that we are open enrollment, and we have a wide range of students, and not only a wide range of physics and math abilities but a wide range of skill sets in taking college courses,” Rector said. “So for students who are motivated and know how to take advantage of the additional resources we offer, they actually do quite well.”

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Rector said 19 different programs at UAA require physics A123. The department offers supplemental instruction taught by former physics A123 students, and students who attend supplemental instruction have a higher pass rate than those who don’t.

“The failure rate is cut in half for the students who attend supplemental instruction,” Rector said. “So for those who didn’t [attend supplemental instruction] last semester, the failure rate was 36 percent. For those who did it was 18 percent. Now the problem is only a quarter of the students went to the instruction because it’s purely optional.”

Lampman’s research also found that, by a student’s second year at UAA, almost half have changed their declared major.

“Switching majors is costly for students because it means maybe you’ve taken classes that won’t count towards your new major,” Lampman said. “I think what we need to do is help students coming to the university taking courses that will count no matter where they end up and taking courses where they are set up for success, and what that really means is foundational tier one GERs.”

After studying pass rates, Lampman started building a First Year Advising program. Valerie Robideaux, director of First Year Student Advising and Success, hopes personal first-year advising will help students enroll in classes they are prepared for and take courses that can count for credit if students change their major.

“Hopefully we’re going to be making sure that students sign up for those foundational courses in those first years,” Robideaux said. “That they’re working on their writing and math and that they’re properly placed in the right courses for that.”

Robideaux predicts the department will be fully functional in advising all first-year students by fall 2019. In addition to new mandatory advising, Lampman said this fall, students will be able to access an app called Seawolf Tracks to help them navigate UAA and connect with advisors and professors.